Dual Status Command – An Evolution of Military Engagement in Domestic Emergencies

The publication Homeland Security Today has an analysis on dual status command, and the fight that states had to preserve their right to maintain control of National Guard forces – particularly in the event of a domestic emergency.  Most people don’t even realize the difference between National Guard and ‘Regular’ Army forces, so what difference does it make?  It’s a huge difference! 

Broadly, here are the differences… National Guard forces are created by Title 32 of the United States Code, whereas our US Armed Forces are created by Title 10 of the United States Code.  Very often, when military and emergency management folks talk about military forces active during a domestic emergency, they will mention that they are either ‘Title 10’ or ‘Title 32’.  The primary distinction is that Title 32 National Guard forces are under the control of the Governor of that state, whereas Title 10 military forces are under control of the President.  There is also the distinction of State Active Duty, which puts the forces under command of the Governor but with limited protections and paid by the state (which is often times lower and does not contribute to their federal retirement).  Title 32 does afford some federal law provisions and protections of the Guard forces, including federal pay.

A soldier or airman activated in one status can not command a soldier or airman activated in another status.  This has created some problems when federalized (Title 10) troops have been deployed to a disaster area and are working directly with National Guard (Title 32) troops.  First off, much of the problem actually stems from emergency management and public safety folks who aren’t aware of the difference (even if you knew the difference between Title 10 and Title 32, you really can’t tell the difference by looking at the soldier).  So when state or local emergency managers (perhaps from an EOC), make a request for military forces who have been assigned to the area, those requests, depending on the unit, must be handled differently.  Additionally, coordination between Title 10 and Title 32 isn’t as smooth and efficient as it should be.  On the surface, it seems like a silly problem, but the legalities behind it are significant.

The solution to this confusion represents a brilliant compromise and an evolution in how military forces as a whole are led and coordinated jointly in the event of a domestic emergency – dual status command.  Under dual status command, a commanding officer (likely a general’s rank) approved by both the President and the governor of the state in question, is appointed to control all forces – Title 32 and Title 10 – assigned to a domestic emergency within a state.  At the time this concept was put forward I had significant interaction with National Guard forces and USNORTHCOM – the concept was the proverbial talk of the town, and largely all positive.  It was seen as a great step forward and an excellent compromise, maintaining the integrity and legality of both the Title 10 and Title 32 status.  The concept is trained and exercised, keeping military commanders up to date on the best ways to integrate forces, not only between federalized troops and National Guard forces, but also integration, interaction, and coordination with first responders.  The Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) mission is vitally important to our nation’s ability to respond effectively to major emergencies, and now our joint military forces have another tool to make them more effective in that mission area.

A great training resource, especially for emergency management and public safety personnel who aren’t familiar with all the ins and outs of military resources that can be applied during a disaster, is IS-75 Military Resources in Emergency Management, provided free of charge by FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.  I’m proud to have been an early contributor to this much-needed training course.

FirstNet and Molasses

I’ve found something slower than molasses – and that’s the implementation of FirstNet: The result of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations from 2004 (again, that’s 2004 – which was eight years ago.  Eight.) part of which outlines the necessity for a more substantial radio spectrum for public safety purposes.  Before I rant any further, I do want to mention that this particular post was brought on by an article in this month’s Emergency Management Magazine called FirstNet’s Challenges, in the print edition or First Net: Answers to Key Questions in the online version.

Eight years… the span of time it takes to obtain a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a doctoral degree.

An eight year old child demonstrates the ability to solve problems independently and can count to 1,000.

I’m severely doubting that most of our elected officials have a great deal of education or an ability to solve problems independently, much less as a group.

The difficulties that public safety has with communication networks are as old as the communication devices themselves.  First off, it shouldn’t have required the 9/11 Commission to raise this issue – it should have been addressed well before.  A committed, secure, interoperable, and durable information network for first responders is an absolute necessity.  The hopes of first responders everywhere was that, along with most of the Commission’s recommendations, this matter would be addressed with all haste.  We couldn’t be more wrong.  It took them eight years to pass legislation just to allow the creation of the entity to work on ideas on how to address this!  That legislation, by the way, was included in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Action of 2012 – which largely deals with taxes, unemployment, and Medicare.  The creation of FirstNet is in no way directly related to any of these topics.

But wait – there’s more!  The Emergency Management Magazine article goes on to outline what needs to be accomplished next, including the formation of a board (done), development of policy, procedures, bylaws, and a charter.  Further, they must name a public safety advisory committee (isn’t public safety the primary purpose of this group to being with?  If so, why do we need an advisory committee?  Shouldn’t that be the primary focus of the board?), hire staff, and establish a budget (the enacting legislation provided $7 billion dollars as ‘seed money’… estimates for creating a nationwide network are as high as $40 billion – which does not include maintenance of the network and recurring costs.

I will grant that there are certainly challenges with this – financial, technological, and political.  There have been attempts at this (ref: a miserable failure of an attempt in New York State several years back which cost the tax payers millions of dollars).  But, gosh… perhaps we would be a bit further ahead had we not waited EIGHT YEARS to pass this enabling legislation in the first place!

Is my frustration apparent?

Presentations… Inspired

For those of you who may not know, I am, by trade, a trainer.  The emergency management stuff came after my early forays into training, and throughout my emergency management career I remained a trainer.  Obviously a big part of training is what we call ‘platform skills’ (aka being able to present).  I’ve been a trainer for over 17 years now and I’ve been sought after across the country for training and presentations – so I guess people like what I do.  I know, though, that I have a lot of room for improvement.  Through the years I’ve learned from many people – assimilating parts of their presentation style into mine, honing my skills.  I’ve learned to not be so stiff and to relax; I enjoy doing presentations and I learned that I’m a better presenter by simply showing the audience that I’m having a good time.  I try to always learn something from a speaker or presenter – and sometimes it’s not their content, but how they deliver it.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading material by Nancy Duarte.  Nancy is a communication expert who owns one of the most successful non-tech businesses in Silicon Valley.  Nancy has authored the books Slideology and Resonate, and just released a book for Harvard Business Review called Persuasive Presentations.  While I’ve not read Slideology, I can personally attest that Resonate was a great book – a great book made totally astounding in the ibook format.  Yes, ibook, not ebook.  If you are not familiar with ibooks, they are interactive books.  Resonate incorporated a great deal more content than could possibly be in the print version by including both internal and external links, video segments, and more.  Presentations, after all, are a multi-media experience – and she proves that point by the medium of the ibook.  Never fear – it’s not at all distracting, as the ibook format is a self guided experience.  Don’t want to watch a video?  Then you can skip it and continue reading.  Very user-friendly.  I believe the only means of getting it, however, is at the Apple Store.  Anyhow, Nancy’s approach to presentations is refreshing.  She has studied a history of great speeches, analyzed the patterns and flow of those speeches, and formulated methodologies to help bring you success by following those patterns.

As I mentioned, Nancy just put out a new book for Harvard Business Review called Persuasive Presentations.  I ordered it yesterday and I’m quite looking forward to receiving it.  It’s a paperback and Nancy explains that she has incorporated the best parts of her previous two books as well as some new content.  I find her material to be great for an experienced presenter as we continually seek to hone our skills.  While a new presenter or trainer might get a little overwhelmed, I still think they can learn a lot from her.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not being paid to advertise for Ms. Duarte – I’m just passing along some great resources.  I encourage you to check out her website.  She has some good info on there.  If you have 20 minutes to kill, sit through her TEDx presentation – it’ll give you a good overview of her philosophies.


The Wonders of Post-Apocalyptic TV

I love post-apocalyptic themed TV shows: The Walking Dead, Revolution, and Falling Skies are my potato chips… I just can’t get enough!  Not only are these shows extremely well cast, produced, and directed, they have fantastic character development, and the story lines are riveting.  The sociological aspects, as mentioned in my previous post – The Monster Mash – What’s With the Zombie Thing in Emergency Management? – are extremely thought provoking.  What would people do to survive?  How would they act?

In case you aren’t familiar with the shows:  Revolution is a new show this season.  It uses as a scenario a global power outage and takes place 15 years after this outage.  The cause for the outage isn’t known, and it seems that the cause continues to suppress any and all electrical power.  Falling Skies takes place present day and is about a very diverse group surviving a brutal alien invasion.  The Walking Dead, just in case you happen to be living under a rock, is about a zombie apocalypse.  If there was just one to pick, it would be The Walking Dead – which actually has a great blend of the other two, with its own twists added in.

In all three shows, government, as we know it, does not exist – or at least has not revealed itself.  That said, in two of these shows – Revolution and Falling Skies – societal groups have formed a hierarchy, supposedly for the mutual benefit and protection of the group.  In Falling Skies the government structure is a bit more benevolent and focused on taking care of its people – to the point of taking an isolationist view with the rest of the world, including the alien invaders.  In Revolution, the government structure we see is very much a military dictatorship focused on control.  If you watch both shows, it’s evident that other government structures outside of these are certainly possible and very likely.  What would happen in our world absent government?

In The Walking Dead we see small groups of people coming together for mutual benefit and survival – certainly not as large as we see in the other two shows, and not large enough to be considered any attempt at ‘government’.  Aside from the central group of characters, we’ve seen other groups – all different, but all trying to survive in their own way.  Looting is accepted practice both in The Walking Dead as well as Falling Skies – mostly for durable foods and medical supplies.  You can have whatever vehicle you see on the side of the road, but fuel is a rare commodity.  Revolution is largely beyond looting as it takes place 15 years after the global power outage.  Hunting for food is practiced in all three shows, as is some measure of farming.

Commonly across all three shows are the themes that only the strongest-willed people survive and that there is (relative) safety in numbers.  Some people are able to utilize their pre-apocalypse skills (such as medical professionals), while others learn new skills and take on completely different roles.  People need to be inventive and need to be able to survive the worst and longest camping trip ever.  What will our society do?  We’ve seen it through many disasters our country has faced.  Will there be looting – sure there will.  We saw it happen in Katrina.  Of course there were the idiots lugging large screen TVs, but most looting was for food.  I’m not condoning it, but I’d certainly do it for my family if I had to.

For as much as we complain about our government, it’s difficult to imagine having no government.  Having some civil hierarchy gives us structure and order.  There have been countless studies done on the innate desire that humans have to be part of a structure or at least being comforted knowing that a structure exists.  I certainly think that groups of people would form some measure of government structure on their own.  The scary consideration, however, is those who would abuse that power.

Would our society recover?  I think it would – although society would look nothing like it looks today.

The Monster Mash – What’s with the Zombie Thing in Emergency Management?

In May of 2011 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) unleashed its Zombie Preparedness campaign upon the world.  This campaign took off like a flesh-eating monster, encouraging preparedness throughout the nation and prompting similar campaigns in other countries.  My guess is that the CDC took a creative prompt from the current pop culture zombie craze (mostly fueled by AMC’s The Walking Dead series – yep, I’m a big fan – note: season 3 starts on October 14th) as well as from the common sense, yet tongue-in-cheek group known in Zombie Squad.  Zombie Squad, whose website says they have been around since 2003.  ZS (as they are known) “… is an elite zombie suppression task force ready to defend your neighborhood from the shambling hordes of the walking dead.” “When the zombie removal business is slow we focus our efforts towards educating ourselves and our community about the importance of disaster preparation.”

So how does this all make sense?  Actually, it fits very well.  Contrary to the other monster fad currently sweeping the globe – vampires – which seems to be intent on teenage-level love stories, this zombie business is serious, really.  The Walking Dead has spurred many conversations in on-line discussion boards and in my own home about people functioning and surviving when society has crumbled around them.  Zombieism is also a disease, so all the concepts that go with a major disease, such as transmission prevention, isolation and quarantine, treatment, vaccination, etc. all apply.

From a preparedness angle, the zombie concept works well. On the CDC website, their director, Dr. Ali Khan explains “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”  They then further encourage people to get a kit, make a plan, and be prepared.  It’s great that we’re all using the same message!  The Zombie Squad website also encourages the same.

Now how about from the prospective of emergency response and emergency management folks?  Surely, we can’t be swayed by this pop culture silliness as well?  We sure can – and I think it’s great!  For many of the same reasons explained earlier, we can draw many similarities between a zombie attack and an actual incident.  Sure, we take some liberties and we have a little fun with it, but why can’t we?  A successful exercise is one that tests our objectives, is it not?  Drawing the scenario similar to a pandemic or hazardous materials type of incident, agencies are testing objectives related to mass casualties, mass fatality management, isolation and quarantine, public messaging, incident command, crowd control, looting, disease prevention, points of distribution, etc.  So many times I had heard from those who taught me ‘the art of exercises’, that the scenario really doesn’t matter, it’s all about the objectives.  Sure, in the past we’ve always given consideration to the scenario being realistic so that the participants buy into it, but I think many can totally get into the zombie thing.  This local exercise is using the zombie theme later this month (they are even giving prizes for things such as ‘best zombie walk’ to encourage volunteers to come for this, and yes, they are holding a ‘Thriller’ dance!), and you’ve probably seen articles on National Guard and Department of Defense units using a zombie attack as their scenario.

Bottom line, it’s fun, it’s effective, and it’s a graveyard smash!

Emergency Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities

My post is in reference to an article in Emergency Management Magazine (found here:http://www.emergencymgmt.com/disaster/Emergency-Planning-Disabled-Uphill-Battle.html).  The author’s article brings up several pertinent points around preparedness planning for persons with disabilities.  This, like darn near everything in emergency management, requires a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approach.  We also need to be very certain to not lump all persons with disabilities into one category.  There are various levels of function that people may have.  Many people live with disabilities every day and are highly functioning, requiring little or no help.  Others may require daily or constant assistance from family, friends, or other care takers, including medical professionals.  Some folks are dependent upon medications or medical equipment (insulin dependant diabetics, those requiring dialysis, or home oxygen), while some have mobility impairments.  Some may have cognitive disabilities such as autism, Down’s Syndrome, or a traumatic brain injury.  Some persons may have several disabilities which need to be considered.  A community’s planning efforts must incorporate the full spectrum of needs.

Following our emergency planning steps, we can easily pull together the people and information we need.  First, form a planning group.  Emergency management, local health department, and local organizations that advocate for persons with disabilities, such as the Arc, associations for the blind and hearing impaired, diabetes association, MDA, UCP, etc.  These are all important stakeholders as they serve and advocate for our disabled populations on a daily basis.  You should probably know your community’s hazards, but we should analyze how they can impact persons with disabilities.  We have to define what needs exist that we need to address.  We can even consider mitigation measures, such as obtaining strobe light alerting for those with hearing impairments.

Help your community keep its finger on the pulse of the needs of persons with disabilities by forming a special needs registry.  Those utilized now are web-based and help first responders and emergency management identify, plan for, and address the changing needs in the community.  Having current information such as names, addresses, and type and severity of disability are extremely important.  Planning for notification, evacuation, transportation, and sheltering are often times the most challenging.  Expand your planning group when these challenges come up.  Include utility companies (who will prioritize power restoration to those who are dependent for medical reasons), local and regional transportation authorities, and those agencies and resources who will staff special needs shelters.

Remember, most persons with disabilities are not an idol portion of our population.  They are highly functioning and can help, needing only the right accommodations to do so.  Also, be sure to promote special needs preparedness.  FEMA, the American Red Cross, and others have excellent resources for this.  Your local association for the blind and visually impaired can help you obtain materials in large print or braille.  The National Organization on Disability is also a great resource (nod.org).  Don’t leave anyone behind!

Using Layered Exercises to Add Value to an Exercise Initiative

Over the last several years, I have had the opportunity, and the pleasure, to lead and participate in some very significant exercises. For some of these larger exercises (mostly functional) we were more interested in testing objectives associated with activities which would occur 72 or 96 hours into the incident (i.e. well after the initial response phase). I’ve made the mistake of scripting (assuming) what would be accomplished in those first few operational periods in an effort to set up the players sufficiently for play starting a few days into the incident. Despite my experience, the input of others, and some dedicated writing it would be rather heavily criticized (i.e. “We would never do that!”). The end result was not only some disgruntled participants, but also skewed results. What we needed was the players to write that part of the exercise for us.

So that’s exactly what they did – or rather, they told us what to write. We accomplished this by conducting a table top exercise with the agencies who would be most heavily involved in the response for those first several operational periods. Through careful structure and injects we were able to walk away with the data we needed to create an Incident Action Plan and a detailed briefing which could be provided to the players for the functional component of the exercise. We had to allow ourselves a few weeks between the TTX and the FE to create a detailed and workable IAP (all based on the actions of the agencies at the TTX) along with the supporting information and materials they needed to help get up to speed – this document we called a ‘Ground Truth’. This methodology resulted in a far better functional exercise, allowed us to bring in first responder agencies for the table top exercise (who where actually happy getting to discuss a response beyond the first operational period), and got us a lot of bang for our buck.

The planning of these types of undertakings is a bit more complicated than just planning one exercise. First of all, you truly are planning two exercises at the same time. While obviously the functional exercise is the most complex, don’t leave planning for the TTX until the last minute as so much actually hinges on the outcome of the TTX. That said, there is still plenty of work that can be done to prepare for the fuctional exercise before the TTX occurs. Much of the MSEL can be developed, but it will need some tweaking based on the information that comes out of the TTX. Be sure to have plenty of evaluators and note takers (I know – this isn’t an official HSEEP function) on hand at the TTX to capture their discussion and actions.

I’ve led a few ‘layered’ exercises such as this and will be evaluating another at the end of this month. I’d encourage you to consider the potential value in this approach for your next exercise.

Telephonic Alert Systems Not the Only Solution

Recently, Emergency Management Magazine posted an article on failures of telephonic alert notifications (http://www.emergencymgmt.com/disaster/Do-Alert-Notifications-Fail-Expectations.html).  The article certainly exposes some of the limitations of these systems as well as the reasons why these limitations exist.  One significant reason is that these systems typically require cell phone users to subscribe (yep… one more thing we need to ask the public to do in an effort for them to be responsible for their own well-being).  Those of you reading this who are in Emergency Management know that it’s very difficult to motivate the general public to do these types of things.  Yes, subscription can be circumvented by forced cell bursts, whereas public safety pushes messages out to all cell users within the range of a given tower(s).  This, though, by FCC regulation, is only to be done in the event of extreme emergency.

So what do we do?  First, we need to continue marketing these alerting programs.  The Feds have put one together they are hoping to implement nationally, many states have them, some cities have them, college campuses have them, even some businesses have them.  They have a huge value – particularly the ones that are customizable by the end-user and multi-modal (voice, text, e-mail, fax, etc.).  Just an hour and a half ago I received an alert by text and e-mail about a magnitude 2.5 earthquake in Canada on the Quebec-Ontario border.  Likewise, I receive them about local road closures and severe weather.  I market our local alert system as much as possible – I’ve even obtained hundreds of flyers from the state’s emergency management agency on the program so I can distribute them when I have speaking engagements and attend community events.  The technology is wonderful and it will continue evolving – both from the programming side that initiates the alert as well as the ability of our infrastructure to handle mass notifications.

The article, however, seems to not mention the integration of other modes of communication to the public.  This is absolutely vital!  You can never rely on only one mode.  Certainly EAS, pushed through radio and TV, is extremely valuable and effective.  But we also need to consider using sirens and even personnel driving through neighborhoods in vehicles providing information by way of loud-speaker.  There is always a chance that you won’t reach someone, but you have to cover as many modes as practical given the importance of the information that must get out.

Fusion Centers & The Art of Intel

In reference to an MSNBC article titled “Homeland Security Fusion Centers Called Useless“… This was a pretty critical article on the utility and outputs of fusion centers.  Fusion centers have been highly funded by the federal government over the past decade as a means of pulling together local, state, and federal law enforcement officials into one regional facility with the purpose of collecting, sharing, and analyzing intelligence information pertinent to domestic crimes and terrorism.

While the article was critical of the outputs of fusion centers, such as failed leads and off-base reports, there have been successes.  The article eludes to them, but some of those successes are still classified/sensitive information.  Given that, this article may not be fairly representing the progress of fusion centers.  That said, there are still some obvious improvements to be made.

This is not CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, or Law and Order.  The collection and analysis of information (law enforcement intelligence, or otherwise) is not often times a straight forward or simple process.  It can not be accomplished within the confines of an hour-long prime time show.  While I’m not an intel analyst, I’ve performed similar work many times over as a Planning Section Chief and Situation Unit Leader working in incident command posts and emergency operations centers for various types of incidents.  Add in a multi-agency response (which nearly every incident of any measure of complexity surely entails), and you’ve got your hands full just figuring what has happened, much less what’s going on right now, and trying to forecast what will likely happen.  One needs to determine exactly what information is needed, where to get it, how to get it, validate it once it’s received, consider how the information should be shared, cross-reference it with other data, and still make sure that it’s all timely, relevant, and accurate.  Intel gets even more complicated, particularly in the ‘cross referencing’ activity I just listed.  The best way I’ve seen this explained is by ‘collecting the dots and connecting the dots’.  A great book for your intel types is “Intelligence Analysis – A Target Centric Approach“.  It should be required reading for all fusion center staff.

Fusion centers are still a fairly new concept – perhaps could even still be considered a fad.  They are a concept that has likely not reached maturity.  They have certainly been tested in real life and by way of prevention exercises.  On a daily basis they must weed through tons of boring and seemingly irrelevant information, identifying one bit here and one bit there that might be relevant.  These folks are further challenged by a multi-agency environment (certainly a strength in the long run, but still presenting challenges of its own) and the necessity to identify patterns within the intel.  No easy task.  They have policies, processes, and procedures.  They have training and exercises.  Clearly, though, we are doing something wrong.  But what? 

The 2-1-1 Advantage During Disasters

I’m currently involved in efforts in central New York to bring 2-1-1 into the area.  2-1-1 is a nationally recognized and standardized information and referral system for public services.  Citizens can dial 2-1-1 (or reference their area’s 2-1-1 website) and obtain information on any day regarding services available to them for a variety of needs from government and local organizations, particularly health and human service related needs.

One of the strongest supporters of bringing 2-1-1 into the area is the county Department of Emergency Services – which oversees 9-1-1.  Especially during times of major emergencies and disasters impacting the area, 2-1-1 can relieve the 9-1-1 center of those calls which are important, but not life threatening emergencies.  The 2-1-1 center can be provided, directly from service providers, the Emergency Operations Center, or other authorities information on evacuations, sheltering, emergency food and water, points of distribution, traffic and school closures, crisis counseling services, volunteer opportunities, and other information.

California 2-1-1 indicated that during the San Diego wildfires of 2007, 2-1-1 provided information and support to more than 130,000 residents in a span of five days, including over 41,000 calls alone on one of these days (they averaged about 5,000 calls a day during ‘normal’ non-disaster operations).  This information, and more, is cited in a 2-1-1 after action document they published titled ‘Trial By Fire’.

Support a 2-1-1 system in your area!